A Time to be Vigilant

Earlier this month, I came across a disturbing article in the Wall Street Journal, “First, They Came for the Biologists.” Dr. Heather Heying, a biology professor who taught at Evergreen State College for fifteen years, is the author. It is an account of the revolution happening on many college campuses—aimed at eradicating ideas that are considered contrary. As a scientist, Dr. Heying has committed herself to pursuing truth, be it through reason, inquiry, dissent, and objective reality. “Science,” has she views it, “creates space for the free exchange of ideas, for discovery, for progress.” But such pursuits for space are viewed by an increasing number with suspicion.

Here’s how she put it: “The battle on our campuses . . . in K-12 schools, in cubicles and in meetings, and on the streets—is being framed as a battle for equity, but that’s a false front.” The equality movement is really a “highly virulent social pathogen, an autoimmune disease of the academy.” Diversity offices that were supposed to address bigotry have instead been “weaponized and repurposed to catch and cull all who disagree.” She adds: “Those who hold to positions at odds with them are shouted down, hunted, assaulted, even battered.” Dr. Heying no longer teaches at Evergreen.

Here it is helpful for the church and the seminary to push the pause button. What is happening? If science is no longer safe, imagine the precarious place of religion. Like a biology professor, I have considered my journey of faith to be a pursuit of truth. I have given much of my life to engaging in theological inquiry, not with the aim of propping up some mindless spiritual experience, but with the aim of weighing the validity of my beliefs. Do my moral values have a legitimate leg to stand on? Short answer—YES! But are they safe in this thoughtless world?

My conviction that marriage is a union of a man and a woman has nothing to do with phobias (I find this language insulting). It not only comes out of careful and reasoned study of design, cultural values, and Scripture, but to what a reasoned argument could claim: if we are free to redefine marriage, where does it stop? If man is the reference point for moral convictions, than definitions can go anywhere. The same with life in a womb. Am I convinced that life in the womb should be respected and protected? Yes, and reason and inquiry and dissent and objective reality—and Scripture—have brought me here. If a parent abuses a one year old, someone needs to speak up. It is not about a parent’s right to say this is a matter of privacy—anymore than murdering a child in the womb is one’s right.

My stance on Jesus, on Scripture, on the kingdom of God, on the nature of leadership, on the taking of life . . . continue to be refined. Life is a journey of faith-ful inquiry that hopefully allows for mutual respect.

Unfortunately, an increasing number view our faith—which must be foundational to our core convictions—as mere myth, fantasy—as something untethered from reality (read “How America Lost Its Mind,” The Atlantic, Sep 2017). Yes, we are now as credible as those who believe in Loch Ness Monsters. But it’s worse. Those who hold to any semblance of traditional values are being labeled as racists and worse–especially on university campuses. In the name of diversity, fringe elements are committed to eradicate any worldview that differs from theirs. Under the label, “progressive,” which is really regressive, an increasing number are convinced that my views are arcane, generated by both fear and hate.

When I was a student at San Diego State University in the 70’s, I often shared with students and professors my belief that we are all a mess and our only hope of forgiveness is Jesus, I don’t remember being shouted down or attacked. When I shared my conviction that there is objective truth, and God is the reference point of all truth, and Scripture is the revelation of His will, some listened, others questioned, and a large number challenged. But no one called the campus police. There was a lot of space for the free exchange of ideas. But today–it seems we are losing that space. People are conveniently throwing labels that incite to silence those they disagree with. We really are losing our minds, as well as the freedoms we once held.

Are we training leaders who will not capitulate—who stand by the gospel and speak with grace? Will we respectfully respond to dismissive voices with the courage of conviction? Will we say–“No this is not some mindless holding on to the past or acting out of fear and bigotry. These are my carefully considered opinions, that come out of a well-reasoned faith, and are shared to express the deep love of God.”


About John Johnson

John Johnson is the former lead pastor at Village Church in Portland, OR. Presently, he is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Western Seminary and devoted to writing.